Forcing Bulbs Indoors for Winter Blooms

Forcing Bulbs Indoors for Winter Blooms

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As the gardening season slows down, do you still have spring-flowering bulbs that you never planted? Don’t despair! Try potting them up to force into cheerful bloom this winter in the house. 

It is easy enough to do and you will be glad you did it when they start blossoming while there is still snow on the ground.

Temperature, moisture, sufficient cold period, and protection from rodents are the most important considerations. Some bulb varieties, like early single tulips, are easy to force. Many bulbs are now being marketed specifically for forcing and will say so on the label.

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Buy the biggest, healthiest bulbs you can find and they will reward you with the best flowers.

Potting the Bulbs

Potting is the easiest part of this process and the messiest. I use shallow wide containers called bulb pans that are 5 inches deep and 8 inches across. Fill your pots half to three-quarters full of fast draining potting soil or a soilless mix. No fertilizer is necessary because your bulbs come packed with all the nutrition they need to produce this season’s flowers. Place them in the pot, pointy end up, as close together as you like. Don’t let them touch just in case one rots it won’t spoil the rest. A full pot gives a better display and you can mix varieties in the same container if you wish.

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When planting tulips be sure the flat side of the bulb faces the pot rim because this is the side that will have the first leaf and it looks nicer draped over the edge of the pot instead of bunched up in the center. Cover the bulbs with soil to within an inch of the rim to allow room for watering. It is okay if large bulbs such as daffodils, tulips, and hyacinths have their noses sticking up out of the soil. Water the pots well and put them in a cold, dark, place to develop roots. Check the pots once a week and water when dry.

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To get our flowering bulbs to bloom indoors we have to trick them into thinking winter has come and gone and it is safe to blossom.

Storing the Pots

The key to success is finding a place to store them that is accessible, cold enough, and protected from marauding rodents. Many books recommend digging a trench, putting the pots in there, and covering them with dirt or leaves. This will work in warmer climates. In the frozen north, however, you need to use a cold basement or unheated room that stays between 32 to 40 degrees. Most bulbs need 12 to 15 weeks of cold treatment before they are sufficiently rooted and ready to bloom. Check the bottom of the pots for roots. Even if they show some top growth but aren’t well-rooted, give them more time in storage.

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Forcing the Bulbs

When they have rooted and their time is up, you can start bringing pots out of cold storage. To prevent “blasting” or shriveling of the flower buds, introduce them to the warmth of the house gradually by placing them in a cool bright spot away from any heat source for 2-3 weeks. Most bulbs will begin to bloom in 2-5 weeks.

Timetable for Popular Forced Bulbs

Here’s a timetable for some popular forced bulbs:

  • Crocus, iris reticulata, and snowdrops need 15 weeks of cold.
  • Daffodils 15 to 17 weeks.
  • Hyacinths, 11 to 14 weeks.
  • Muscari 13 to 15 weeks.
  • Scilla 12 to 15 weeks.
  • Tulips 14 to 20 weeks.

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Did you know that you can also force branches of flowering trees and shrubs into bloom? See our article on forcing branches.

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

Reader Comments

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my hyacinth plant

I knocked the plant over and it fell on the rug. This broke some stems and also one whole bulb came out of the planter without the roots. If I put it in a glass jar, will it grow roots. It said to pull off the dying bulbs so I pulled them all off. Did I kill the plant?

Sounds like a bit of a

Sounds like a bit of a disaster! I think your plants have had it but if you want to try placing that bulb in some water to root you have nothing to lose. It may throw out a few new roots. I think I would dry the bulbs and store them in a cool, dry, dark place until I could get them in the ground and hope for the best.

Glass jar but blossoming

I bought a bulb in a jar that had already bloomed , should I go ahead and put into a pot, then transfer to the ground in spring. ? Also is it to late to get other bulbs going?

Yes get it into some soil so

Yes get it into some soil so it can continue to grow and then plant it outside in spring. It is too late to start more bulbs now but plan ahead for next fall!

hyacinths need info to planting guide I have 4 bulbs in glass ja

Thanks for your article. I have 4 bulbs in a glass far, and I am wondering when to put them outside. They already have roots and are in glass jars with water trying to bloom already.

It sounds like your hyacinths

It sounds like your hyacinths are ready to blossom! As long as they have plenty of root growth and have been kept cold - below 48 degrees for at least 10 weeks - they should bloom just fine. Gradually move them into a spot with higher light and warmer temps. Should the blossoms begin to open before the stalks have lengthened it means they did not have a long enough cold period. Hopefully yours will be fine and bloom fully. I can almost smell them from here! After they bloom, keep the bulbs growing until the ground thaws and you can plant them outside. You might have better luck with that if the bulbs are growing in soil rather than water. They need to make healthy top growth to feed the bulb for next year’s bloom. If planted in a pot you’ll be able to fertilize them - weakly weekly - until time to plant them outside. They may skip blossoming next year while they recover from forcing.

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